NFL News & Analysis

NFL bounce-back candidates: What went wrong for 32 players last season and their outlook for 2021

Orchard Park, New York, USA; Seattle Seahawks strong safety Jamal Adams (33) reacts to a defensive play against the Buffalo Bills during the third quarter at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

As a part of our partnership with ESPN, this is a part of a story that was originally published on ESPN+ and can be viewed in its entirety here with your ESPN+ subscription – NFL bounce-back candidates: What went wrong for 32 players last season and their outlook for 2021

Which players struggled in 2020 but could bounce back in 2021? Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the league, more than a few players struggled to find consistency last season, no matter their experience. Can Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin and Seahawks safety Jamal Adams bounce back after late-season injuries? What is the outlook for the Colts' Carson Wentz once he returns from injury? How is Odell Beckham Jr. looking in Cleveland? These questions answered and more.

With our friends at PFF, we identified the following 32 players — one from each team — that look to bounce back to the high levels of play they've already demonstrated in the NFL. Our NFL Nation reporters also give their thoughts on how these players can improve in 2021.


ARZ | ATL | BLT | BUF | CAR | CIN | CHI | CLE | DEN | DAL | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LVR | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WFT

ARIZONA CARDINALS: Chandler Jones, Edge

PFF grade in 2020: 62.6

What went wrong: Jones had an elite season as a pass-rusher in 2019, earning a career-high 90.0 pass-rush grade, which ranked inside the top five among NFL edge defenders. Instead of building on that success, Jones got off to a slow start in 2020 before suffering a season-ending biceps injury in Week 5. He generated just 10 pressures across 166 rushes prior to the injury, leading to a 63.1 pass-rush grade in that stretch. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: What happened to Jones the first four games isn't surprising, especially after how he balled out in 2019. Offensive lines weren't going to let him beat them, plain and simple. They double-teamed and triple-teamed him more and chipped him to the point that he was neutralized. Before anyone wants to critique Jones for this, think about how hard it is for one man to get by two or three men? Also consider this: Jones had zero sacks in three games in 2019 and 0.5 in another two. Not getting sacks happens, and Jones is the type who can get sacks in bunches. With the addition of J.J. Watt this offseason, there's a chance Jones could have the best season of his career — if Watt can stay healthy and productive. — Josh Weinfuss


PFF grade in 2020: 80.2

What went wrong: Jarrett is a bounce-back candidate for Atlanta because he was not his normal “elite” self a year ago. He had earned a PFF grade above 90.0 in both 2018 and 2019, but that fell to 80.2 in 2020. The decline was solely because of his performance against the run and had nothing to do with his presence in the pass rush. Jarrett was on a three-year stretch of run-defense grades above 82.0 before posting a 66.2 mark last season. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: As noted by PFF, Jarrett was not bad last season, and there's little reason to think he won't return to his elite status for the Falcons in 2021. He's going to be in a new defensive scheme, but one that will be sending pressure from everywhere coordinator Dean Pees can bring it — and potentially some spots he can't, either. That should force some one-on-one matchups for Jarrett, and he's going to win the vast majority of those, which should lead to a big uptick in his performance. — Michael Rothstein


PFF grade in 2020: 65.9

What went wrong: Zeitler performed at a quality level relative to the rest of the league's guards in 2020, but it wasn't up to his standards. His 65.9 PFF grade was his lowest in nine career seasons by over seven points. Zeitler's start to the 2020 season with the Giants was a key factor in his grade taking a steep hit. He allowed multiple pressures in eight of his 16 starts, and five of those came within the first five weeks. Perhaps a normal offseason playing in a Baltimore system that will also limit his true pass-set opportunities will get him back to the consistent, stout lineman he was before last season. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: The Ravens invested a three-year, $22 million contract in Zeitler in free agency because they believe he provides the experience and stability at right guard that has been lacking since Marshal Yanda retired after the 2019 season. Zeitler is a mauling blocker whose skill set should mesh perfectly with a Ravens offense that runs the ball more than any other team in the NFL. It hasn't been an optimal summer for Zeitler, who has missed a chunk of training camp with a sprained foot. But durability has never been a concern for Zeitler — he has missed one game in the past six seasons. — Jamison Hensley

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PFF grade in 2020: 55.8

What went wrong: Milano has been inconsistent throughout his career, but he has at times looked like one of the league's top coverage linebackers. Back in 2018 and 2019, he ranked 14th and fourth, respectively, in coverage grade among off-ball linebackers. In 2020, his coverage grade rank at the position fell steeply, all the way to No. 51. Some of the decline can be explained by injuries he suffered in the first four weeks that kept him out for six games in the regular season and caused him to be on a snap count in five games. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Poised for a major payday this offseason, Milano got one — surprisingly with the team that drafted him in the fifth round in 2017. He chose to stay with the Bills rather than test free agency and forms one of the better young linebacker tandems with Tremaine Edmunds. A fourth straight season beside Edmunds should pay dividends on the field as both battled injuries last season and were slowed by the lack of spring practices. When both players are on their game, the Bills' defense is one of the stingiest in the league, and Milano's health will prove to be a catalyst in Buffalo's success this season. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


PFF grade in 2020: 55.6

What went wrong: Bouye started from the bottom as an undrafted free agent back in 2014 and made his name known as one of the best corners in the game from 2016 through 2018. Unfortunately, things have been going downhill ever since. During the three-year stretch from 2016 to 2018 with Houston and Jacksonville, Bouye was the second-highest-graded outside corner in the game. Over the last two years with the Jalen Ramsey-less Jaguars and Broncos, Bouye has produced coverage grades below 56.0. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Unfortunately for Bouye, his comeback at Carolina has begun with a soft tissue injury that has sidelined him for most of training camp. Fortunately for Bouye, he's not expected to carry the load as an outside corner as he has for most of his career. Barring injury, the Panthers like 2021 No. 8 overall pick Jaycee Horn and Donte Jackson on the outside with Bouye as the nickelback. It's a role coach Matt Rhule believes the veteran will thrive in once fully healthy. — David Newton

CHICAGO BEARS: Desmond Trufant, CB

PFF grade in 2020: 38.4

What went wrong: In Trufant's seven years with the Falcons from 2013 through 2019, he ranked among the 15 highest-graded outside corners in coverage four times. He was one of the five highest-graded outside corners over that span. He battled injuries in Detroit last season that limited him to only six games, and he struggled mightily with a 36.7 coverage grade. Matt Patricia's defense in Detroit was quite predictable, though, which did the secondary no favors. The only concern with Trufant is the recent injury history, not the poor play in Detroit. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: The veteran cornerback has not yet flashed at training camp. The Bears seem likelier to start second-year defensive back Kindle Vildor at cornerback as opposed to Trufant, who signed just a one-year minimum deal with zero guaranteed money. Chicago is also high on rookie sixth-round pick cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., another reason veterans such as Trufant could be on the bubble. — Jeff Dickerson


PFF grade in 2020: 52.0

What went wrong: A Week 2 hamstring injury last season caused Awuzie to miss a total of eight games while playing for the Cowboys. He then had a rough time getting back to speed, closing out the season with a few poor performances that brought his PFF grade down over 20 points from his 2019 season. Awuzie signed with Cincinnati this offseason, but how he fares in its system is going to be something to monitor. Awuzie is a zone corner by nature, and he's on a Bengals team that has played man coverage at a top-10 rate under defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo the last couple of seasons. Since entering the NFL in 2017, Awuzie ranks 19th among cornerbacks in zone coverage grade but falls to 51st when playing man. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Awuzie has immediately shown signs of a promising 2021 with a new team. He stepped into a starting spot and has had several strong moments during the first half of training camp. If this form continues, Awuzie will have the season he and the Bengals are hoping for. — Ben Baby


PFF grade in 2020: 75.3

What went wrong: Beckham is a bounce-back candidate for the second consecutive season. From 2014 to 2018 with the Giants, he was the fifth-most-valuable wide receiver in the NFL, according to PFF WAR. Over the past two years in Cleveland, Beckham barely cracks the top 50 at the position in WAR generated. Beckham's debut season with the Browns in 2019 ended up being the lowest-graded season of his career, and he still wasn't performing like his normal self in 2020 before a season-ending knee injury in Week 7 (73.7 receiving grade). — PFF

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) catches the ball as he runs out of bounds Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Outlook for 2021: Not only is Beckham well on his way to being healthy again, he'll be playing with a completely different Baker Mayfield, who was among the top passers in the NFL during the back half of last season. To be sure, OBJ and Mayfield have struggled with their chemistry in the past, up through Beckham's season-ending knee injury. But a healthy Beckham and a more poised and confident Mayfield could be the combination that finally unlocks this duo. — Jake Trotter


PFF grade in 2020: 48.1

What went wrong: Lewis took on a full-time role from the slot in 2019 after spending his 2017 rookie campaign on the outside and 2018 season as a reserve. He held his own in that first season, ranking 15th among 47 qualifying defensive backs in PFF grade when covering the slot. Lewis then hit a bump in the road before the 2020 season, suffering an ankle injury ahead of Week 1. When he made his return in Week 2, he didn't look like the same player. His slot coverage grade dropped to the fourth-worst among qualifiers for the season. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: You don't want to give Lewis an out for last season, but essentially everybody struggled defensively in 2020. He missed some time in training camp with a hamstring strain, but his practice against the Rams last week showed his value in how he defended DeSean Jackson and Cooper Kupp at times. He has the smarts to know how to protect his weaknesses and the instincts to understand how offenses are attacking the slot. New coordinator Dan Quinn will give Lewis — and everybody on the defense — a boatload of confidence they might not have had in 2020. — Todd Archer

DENVER BRONCOS: Alexander Johnson, LB

PFF grade in 2020: 65.4

What went wrong: Johnson spent a few years away from football before entering the league in 2018 and didn't play a down of football in his first year in the NFL. He ended up closing out 2019 as one of three highest-graded players at the position, buoyed by the No. 1 run-defense grade. Johnson remained a productive player in 2020, but it wasn't quite up to that elite standard he set in his first year, as his grade dropped over 23 points.— PFF

Outlook for 2021: Johnson certainly didn't play with enough assignment discipline last season — he has shown improvement in camp — but his drop in performance can be traced to the number of injuries on the defense as a whole. Upgrades to the secondary, a potential breakout candidate in 2019 third-round pick Dre'Mont Jones, a healthy Shelby Harris on the defensive line and better injury luck in the defense as a whole puts Johnson in a much better position to excel in 2021. — Jeff Legwold

DETROIT LIONS: Tracy Walker, S

PFF grade in 2020: 51.0

What went wrong: As a rookie in 2018, Walker starred as a small-sample darling before breaking out as a full-time starter in 2019. Those first two years combined for an 82.5 PFF grade, ranking 12th among safeties with at least 1,000 snaps in that span. Things went sharply downhill last season. Walker was tasked with playing closer to the line of scrimmage as opposed to free safety where he was at his best. When looking solely at those reps in 2018 and 2019, he jumps to third at the position in PFF grade. A bounce-back could be in order as Walker will get back to playing deep in 2021. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Not only was the 2020 season rough individually for Walker, but it was tough for the Lions as a whole, as they finished with the league's worst defense. Walker is returning to the free safety position under new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn's scheme and so far, has a great understanding of his role. Coach Dan Campbell also praised the leadership of Walker, even sharing a funny training camp story in which Walker paid his fine for not fulfilling a $50 bet that he would get an interception during practice. “He owes me two,” Campbell joked. Walker has been impressive under the new regime. — Eric Woodyard

GREEN BAY PACKERS: Preston Smith, Edge

PFF grade in 2020: 55.5

What went wrong: Smith's first and second seasons in Green Bay were vastly different from a pass-rush perspective. He was an impactful player on a weekly basis in 2019 with a 73.3 pass-rush grade and 62 total pressures generated for the season. But in 2020, he was shut down on several occasions and finished with a pass-rush grade more than 16 points lower than the year before. Along with that, Smith generated fewer than half the pressures despite rushing the passer on nearly equal snaps. — PFF

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a pass against Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith (91). Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Outlook for 2021: The best indicator that Smith knows he needs a bounce-back year is that he looks different. Last season, he never quite looked like he was in top shape. When he reported for the offseason program this spring, he looked leaner. That pleased outside linebackers coach Mike Smith, who said: “He's just got to get back to his old form and he'll be fine.” And it comes with an incentive. Smith took a pay cut this offseason but has a chance to earn it all back if he produces like he did in 2019. — Rob Demovsky


PFF grade in 2020: 60.7

What went wrong: Reid spent more time playing closer to the line of scrimmage in 2020 than in his first two seasons in the NFL, and his grade took a steep hit. After producing grades of 77.4 and 76.7 in 2018 and 2019, Reid's grade dipped to 60.7 last season. The drop was largely due to his performance against the run. His 48.3 grade in that facet was the 10th-worst at the position. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: The Texans are hopeful that Lovie Smith's “aggressive” defense will make a difference for Reid in his fourth season. “[Smith] lets us play free on the back end,” Reid said. “He's very intent about us wanting to make plays and going and making plays, playing with instincts, playing with security.” Reid also says he's bigger, faster and stronger and feels “very fluid and just loose on the field.” — Sarah Barshop


PFF grade in 2020: 65.0

What went wrong: Wentz looked broken in 2020. Poor decision-making and inaccurate passes were a weekly occurrence from the 2016 No. 2 overall pick and paved the way to a 60.0 passing grade that ranked fifth-to-last among qualifying quarterbacks. That mark was more than 15 grading points lower than each of his single-season marks in the three seasons prior. The pressure is on Wentz to reclaim that old form once he is able to return to the field from a foot injury suffered in training camp, though he could be back for Week 1. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Wentz has to get on the field first before any thought of having a bounce-back season can be taken into consideration. He has been out since the injury happened the second day of training camp on July 29. The quarterback is in week two of his recovery from the Aug. 2 surgery. Wentz could be out as long as 12 weeks, but he also could be back in time for Week 1 against Seattle. If Wentz is healthy, he's in the perfect position to redeem himself after a dreadful 2020 season because he's reunited with his offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, Frank Reich. Wentz might not put up the type of passing numbers that he had in 2017 — 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns — but Reich will put him in the position scheme-wise to be effective, like quick throws and rollouts to avoid being sacked as many times. It also helps that the Colts have a talented offensive line and depth at running back to take some of the pressure off him. — Mike Wells


PFF grade in 2020: 64.6

What went wrong: Griffin played through nagging injuries for the Seahawks last season and had moments in which he didn't look like his normal self. Relative to the rest of the league, he wasn't terrible, but his seven touchdowns allowed and 64.8 coverage grade overall were well below his 2019 standard. Griffin was one of the five highest-graded outside corners in the league that season and ranked first among the group in forced incompletion rate (22.8%). How he fares playing a higher rate of man coverage in Jacksonville will be important. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: With cornerback CJ Henderson working his way back after a stint on the Jaguars' reserve/COVID-19 list, Griffin has been the No. 1 corner in camp and has played like it. He already has one interception and nearly had another. Griffin, who signed a three-year, $44.5 million deal with Jacksonville in March, has had good one-on-one reps against Marvin Jones Jr. and DJ Chark Jr. (before Chark's broken finger) and has frequently been called out as a “winner” in coach Urban Meyer's winner-loser drills. “I haven't set any expectations, one day at a time,” Griffin said. — Michael DiRocco


PFF grade in 2020: 59.0

What went wrong: Thornhill looked like a rising star at the safety position during his 2019 rookie campaign before it was interrupted by a torn ACL in Week 17. His 71.5 PFF grade up until that point ranked 29th among 87 qualifying safeties, powered by a 78.0 grade in coverage. The latter mark ranked 18th at the position and was one of the 10 best by a rookie safety in the last decade. Thornhill made a swift recovery from the ACL injury and was back for Week 1, but it was clear he wasn't the same player. He struggled to start the season, losing his starting job and ending up in a rotational role. — PFF

Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (85) is defended by Kansas City Chiefs free safety Juan Thornhill (22). Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Outlook for 2021: Thornhill has yet to oust veteran Daniel Sorensen from a starting spot at training camp and appears headed for a similar role as last season when he played mostly when the Chiefs went to a three-safety look. Thornhill said early in camp that he finally is back at full strength after his 2019 injury and that should boost his play when he is on the field. — Adam Teicher

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: Casey Hayward Jr., CB

PFF grade in 2020: 59.5

What went wrong: Hayward was released by the Chargers in March and signed by Raiders in May. New Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley served in the same role with the Chargers from 2017 through 2020, and Hayward looked like a perfect fit in his Hawk Cover-3 system for the first three years. He tied with Patriots' Stephon Gilmore for the highest coverage grade among cornerbacks from 2017 to 2019 before a precipitous drop in his play in 2020. Last season, he earned the lowest coverage grade of his career by 15 grading points. He'll look to find his old form again in Bradley's defense, this time in Las Vegas. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Aside from playing the role of grizzled vet and big brother to the young Raiders' secondary, Hayward has been the best defensive back in camp — period. He's more than comfortable in assuming that role of mentor and it has translated into his play. Familiarity with new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's scheme and the lift he has received from a fresh start with a new organization portends well for Hayward. “He's a hell of a player. Played as a nickel corner. Played great as an outside corner. Doesn't miss practice. Doesn't make mistakes. So, he's been great for our guys. … To have a guy in there that's been on a great defense,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “It's much like Eric Allen did for Charles Woodson back in the day.” — Paul Gutierrez


PFF grade in 2020: 61.6

What went wrong: Bulaga was the league's 13th-highest-graded tackle while playing for the Packers in 2019, but that ranking fell steeply in 2020 — his first season in L.A. — due to a 15-plus grading point decline. He looked like his normal self in his Chargers debut in Week 1, but he wasn't the same after a back injury suffered early in Week 2. Injuries continued to plague his season, and he performed at an uncharacteristically low level when he was on the field. In total, Beluga ended up missing six full games and made an early exit in five. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: The Chargers training staff is being careful with the 32-year-old's workload in camp so far, but he says he feels good after missing a few days of practice in early August. And it's all about staying healthy for Bulaga. New coach Brandon Staley and the assistant coaches are keeping a close eye on the mileage he takes on at camp. L.A. is likely to have four new O-line starters next to Bulaga, so it needs him to stay on the field and gel with his new teammates. — Shelley Smith


PFF grade in 2020: 67.6

What went wrong: Higbee went from underwhelming in his first three years in the league to a standout performer in 2019. His receiving grade was a poor 56.6 from 2016 through 2018 before skyrocketing to 90.1. Sean McVay's offense helped make his life easier and provided easy schemed production at times, but he did make the most of every opportunity. That wasn't the case last season. Higbee's receiving grade fell over 20 points, and he generated over a yard less per route run than the season prior. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Higbee wasn't fully healthy in the latter half of the 2020 season after he suffered an elbow injury in Week 11. Now healthy, watch for Higbee — like the rest of the Rams' offense — to benefit from the arm strength and savvy of new quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford and Higbee have been connecting on short and intermediate throws throughout training camp and the tight end could see an increase in targets this season with the Rams wanting to maximize Stafford's talent. — Lindsey Thiry


PFF grade in 2020: 63.6

What went wrong: Jones converted to a full-time outside corner in 2018 with the Cowboys and immediately starred as a lockdown defender. He produced one of the five highest coverage grades at outside corner in the 2018 and 2019 seasons combined, excelling when playing in press-man coverage. He allowed the fewest yards per coverage when in press-man among cornerbacks in that time span (0.66). After signing with Miami in 2020, the Dolphins' scheme was seemingly a perfect fit. His first year in South Beach wasn't up to the standards he set in Dallas, however, as an early-season injury kept him out a few games, and he had a handful of uncharacteristically poor performances. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Jones signed a whopping five-year, $82.5 million contract with Miami last offseason to form one of the NFL's best cornerback tandems with Xavien Howard. A lack of offseason practices might explain Jones' performance in 2020, but with a full year in the Dolphins' system under his belt and Howard on the opposite side once again, there's little reason to believe Jones can't bounce back to form in 2021. If he does, opposing teams will be faced with the tough choice between attacking him or Howard, the NFL's leader in interceptions over the past three seasons. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


PFF grade in 2020: 55.2

What went wrong: The 31-year-old Peterson's age might explain part of his decline the last couple of years, but the system he was in at Arizona didn't help. At this stage in his career, Peterson isn't meant to play the rate of press-man coverage he did for the Cardinals in Vance Joseph's scheme. He's now in a Minnesota system that won't task him with nearly the amount of press-man as before. He might no longer be the player he was in his prime, but this new scenery could help him get closer to the kind of player he was from 2015 through 2018, when he earned a coverage grade above 80.0 in three of four seasons. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Peterson set a goal for himself to play 16 years in the NFL, and now he gets a fresh start in a new scheme entering Year 11. Athleticism tends to decrease with age, so expecting Peterson to play the same role he did during his prime in Arizona probably isn't realistic, but a change in responsibilities — much like coach Mike Zimmer did to extend Terence Newman's career into his late 30s — will be a welcomed change. That could mean deploying more zone coverage so that Peterson can lean heavier on mental skill set rather than the speed and quickness it takes to go toe-to-toe with elite wideouts in man-to-man. Either way, the perennial Pro Bowler believes he he has plenty left in the tank to not only help develop Minnesota's young crop of corners but further his own career in this next chapter. — Courtney Cronin


PFF grade in 2020: 61.6

What went wrong: Van Noy had a late-career emergence in 2019 with New England thanks to a tweak in his role. He began his career as an off-ball linebacker before transitioning to a hybrid role, but Bill Belichick & Co. made Van Noy more of a pure edge rusher. That season, he ended up with an 84.2 PFF grade that was over 13 points higher than his previous career-high. Van Noy left New England to join forces with former Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores in Miami, but he was asked to go back to a hybrid job. To no surprise, his overall play declined because his coverage prowess is a shaky aspect of his game. Van Noy found his way back to the Patriots after the Dolphins released him in the offseason. As long as he is used in the same manner as he was in 2019, a bounce-back should be in order. — PFF

New England Patriots middle linebacker Kyle Van Noy (53) reacts during the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Outlook for 2021: Van Noy has been playing opposite of big-bucks free-agent signing Matt Judon at outside linebacker, and he seems highly motivated after having his tenure with the Dolphins end much earlier than expected, after one year. “I ask Kyle questions all the time,” Judon said. Van Noy's experience in the Patriots' culture, and defensive system, has positioned him as one of the go-to guys for a front-7 that has dramatically upgraded its talent. — Mike Reiss

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Marshon Lattimore, CB

PFF grade in 2020: 59.1

What went wrong: Lattimore got off to a brutal start in 2020, which weighed down his season-long PFF grade that ended up being a career-low. As a rookie in 2017, he looked like a star in the making with an 87.9 coverage grade, but he has seen that dip to 75.8 in 2018, then to 65.7 in 2019 and 59.7 in 2020. He was still his playmaking self with plenty of ball production, but he made far too many mistakes. Including the Saints' two playoff games, Lattimore allowed eight touchdowns and committed 11 penalties. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Lattimore has always battled some consistency issues, but he already bounced back in the second half of last season — he had two interceptions and 14 pass breakups over his final 11 games. And Lattimore has looked dominant early in camp. The three-time Pro Bowler will be as motivated as ever to prove he is one of the NFL's elite corners in the final year of his contract. Opponents are unlikely to test him much since the Saints will have a huge question mark at the No. 2 cornerback spot. — Mike Triplett

NEW YORK GIANTS: Will Hernandez, G

PFF grade in 2020: 58.1

What went wrong: Hernandez didn't face much of a pass-protection learning curve while making the jump from UTEP to the NFL in 2018. He closed out his rookie and sophomore seasons with a two-year pass-blocking grade that tied for 23rd among 84 qualifying guards. Yet, Hernandez failed to perform as consistently in 2020 before contracting COVID-19 in Week 8. He returned to the team as a reserve starter and finished the year with a 50.9 pass-blocking grade — over 20 points worse than his 2018 and 2019 marks. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Hernandez is going to start, if only because the Giants' options at guard aren't strong. It was a job he lost last season after contracting COVID-19, but the Giants still have hope. Hernandez, a second-round pick in 2018, said he dropped close to 20 pounds this offseason and changed his offseason workout routine, putting in some work with renowned offensive line trainer Duke Manyweather. It seemed to pay dividends in the first preseason game of the summer. — Jordan Raanan

NEW YORK JETS: Lamarcus Joyner, S

PFF grade in 2020: 53.8

What went wrong: Joyner was signed to go back to his old safety position instead of playing primarily in the slot as he did with Las Vegas. He played at safety with the Rams in 2017 and 2018 and generated the seventh-best PFF grade at the position. Joyner was then moved to the slot with the Raiders in 2019 and proceeded to be the lowest-graded player at the position through 2020. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Joyner has settled into the starting free-safety job for the Jets, and if training camp is any indication, he has a good chance to bounce back after his offseason release by the Raiders. Joyner has demonstrated good instincts as a single-high safety in camp; he has several pass breakups in practice. Coach Robert Saleh envisions him in a “Jimmie Ward role”; Ward broke up 12 passes while playing in Saleh's San Francisco defense the past two seasons. — Rich Cimini


PFF grade in 2020: 74.1

What went wrong: While Cox was effective for the Eagles in 2020 with the 26th-best PFF grade among interior defensive linemen, it wasn't up to the dominant standards he has set for himself. He ranked sixth or better at his position in PFF grade in each of the five years leading up to last season. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: It's hard to find a player on the Eagles who met his standards in 2020, and that includes Cox. There's a fresh energy around the team, including on defense under new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. While the scheme has changed, Cox's role remains largely the same — to get into the backfield and create havoc. He has done plenty of that during training camp. — Tim McManus


PFF grade in 2020: 34.8

What went wrong: In 2019, Turner had the lowest-graded season of his career, earning a 63.9 PFF grade. In 2020, he was worse. He had an injury-riddled campaign with the Chargers and consistently produced at a poor level, as evidenced by a 34.8 PFF grade that ranked second-to-last among all qualifying guards. Chargers released Turner in March and the Steelers added him to their rebuilt offensive line in July. He ranked 25th of 60 guards in PFF grade in the three seasons prior to 2019, and that's the kind of production Pittsburgh needs in order to improve this season. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Shortly after releasing longtime Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro, the Steelers signed Turner to a one-year deal with the hope he'll be an anchor on a young offensive line and bounce back from two down seasons. Though he has never played a down with the Steelers, Turner is the most veteran player on a line slated to feature first-time starters at the other four positions. Three weeks into camp, the projected starting line has yet to take a single rep together, and Turner — who said he entered camp fully healthy and healed — will be expected to lead the gelling process once everyone else is present and healthy. — Brooke Pryor

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Arik Armstead, Edge

PFF grade in 2020: 76.0

What went wrong: In 2019, Armstead looked like the elite player the 49ers were expecting when they took him No. 17 overall in 2015. Armstead was a force on a weekly basis and earned an 89.6 PFF grade, which tied for fifth at his position. He was still a good run-defender in 2020, but his pass-rushing took a considerable step back. Armstead only had eight multi-pressure performances last season, paving the way to a 65.6 pass-rush grade for the season. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Armstead's big 2019 season came when the Niners' defensive line was firing on all cylinders. That production dipped last season as Armstead was the only defensive line starter from 2019 who managed to stay on the roster and remain healthy. That left him fewer one-on-one pass-rush opportunities and, more importantly, fewer chances to kick inside where he is at his best rushing the passer. Optimism for a bounce-back can be directly tied to the return of end Nick Bosa from a torn ACL, the potential comeback of end Dee Ford and the addition of edge rusher Samson Ebukam. A healthier supporting cast should provide Armstead more and better opportunities to get after the quarterback. — Nick Wagoner


PFF grade in 2020: 62.7

What went wrong: Multiple injuries hindered Adams' first season as a Seahawk in 2020, but he remained the same fierce weapon as a blitzer that he was in New York. He led all safeties in total pressures generated for the third consecutive season. Adams' coverage play and run defense, however, saw serious drops as the season went on. Adams proceeded to post career-low marks in those two facets by double-digits, and he finished with an overall grade that was over 25 points lower than his 2018 and 2019 seasons. — PFF

Seattle Seahawks strong safety Jamal Adams (33) reacts following the missed field goal attempt by the New York Jets. Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Outlook for 2021: Jamal Adams will enter the regular season fresh off signing a 4-year, $72 million contract extension with the Seahawks. While coverage has never been Adams' strength, his injuries add important context to some of his shortcomings last season. For instance, the play he missed against Cooper Kupp in Seattle's wild-card loss is the kind of play he'll probably make now that he's healthy. And as defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. noted, Adams should benefit from more of an understanding of Seattle's defense than what he had last year after arriving just before camp. “We've had an offseason with him now and he's been able to learn all of the coverages at a slow pace because he hasn't been out there,” Norton said. “So you'll see more of a balanced guy. It's not just a blitzer. You'll see a blitzer as well as a cover guy.” — Brady Henderson


PFF grade in 2020: 76.0

What went wrong: Godwin didn't have a bad season relative to the rest of his position, but it was quite clear that he wasn't his usual self. His 76.0 PFF grade was nearly 15 points lower than his 2019 campaign, when he was the NFL's highest-graded receiver. Godwin had a few different injuries that likely played a part in this decline, but drops were a major issue in 2020. He had surefire hands in his first three NFL seasons with four total drops in that span but more than doubled that total with nine in 2020. Seven of those happened during the Bucs' postseason run. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Godwin had an unfortunate rash of injuries in 2020. He missed Week 2 with a concussion, Weeks 4 through 5 with a hamstring injury and Week 8 with a broken finger that required 10 pins to stabilize the joint. It was the first time in his four-year career that he missed more than two games in a season. Godwin also had some struggles in the postseason, mustering just a 50% catch rate, but Tom Brady continued to express confidence and trust in him during that time. He's healthy now, remains a favorite of Brady and will continue to get a heavy dose of targets as the big slot receiver in Bruce Arians' offense. — Jenna Laine


PFF grade in 2020: 72.8

What went wrong: Saffold isn't listed as a bounce-back candidate because of his run-blocking. His performance in that facet last season flirted with career-high territory and was the fourth consecutive season he earned a run-block grade above 75.0. His pass-blocking, however, was night and day from what he did in the past. Including postseason play, he ranked 25th of 68 qualifying guards in pass-block grade from 2016 through 2019. In 2020, his 57.3 pass-block grade was over 15 grading points lower than in any of those seasons. Saffold was a streaky player and had spot performances of poor pass-protection that explain the lower mark. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: Saffold is set for a bounce-back season, mainly because left tackle Taylor Lewan is next to him once again after missing 11 games last season. The two are able to play off each other because they know what the other is thinking. They'll make calls to each other and know exactly what to do. That level of familiarity will make Saffold's job a lot easier to do this season. — Turron Davenport


PFF grade in 2020: 78.5

What went wrong: Nothing was wrong with McLaurin himself in 2020. He did everything asked of him amid an inconsistent Washington quarterback situation. But due to those limitations at quarterback, he ran fewer vertical routes and was asked to do more underneath. His average depth of target dipped from 14.6 yards as a rookie in 2019 to 9.9 yards in 2020. The percentage of his catches that turned into a 15-plus-yard gain decreased from 40% to 30%, and his yardage total from vertical routes was cut nearly in half — from 404 to 207 — despite him seeing 37 more targets overall. — PFF

Outlook for 2021: McLaurin was productive last season, so I agree with the note from PFF in that his numbers should increase just because of the quarterback change. If he doesn't have to endure another round of QB carousel — he's played with six in two years — it'll help as well. McLaurin and Ryan Fitzpatrick have clicked all summer. With added talent around him and a quarterback willing to take a downfield shot, McLaurin will be able to run a greater variety of routes. He also improved his game, working hard on releases. He has been Washington's best offensive player this summer and is arguably the most consistent player on the team. — John Keim

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